Getting to know: Michael Russell
Founder and CEO, Origin Group
Our founding Originite, Mike Russell, has seen the business grow from two guys in a West Auckland garage, to a team of over 130 helping more than 150 businesses do what they do best. As CEO he wears a few hats, but says the most enjoyable (and critical) one is probably that of Origin’s resident ‘futurist’. We managed to pin him down for half an hour to explain.
You started Origin in 2000. What keeps the job fresh for you?
Yes, we’ve been in business for 18 years, but during that time the only constant has been change. I often say IT is the world’s most exciting industry. It moves so quickly and staying one step ahead is what gets me out of bed in the morning. I love helping businesses capitalise on the new opportunities technology affords them, and freeing them up to innovate and do great things.
How do you manage to continually keep an eye to the future?
I’m constantly challenging myself and our leadership team to anticipate what’s coming next and to keep evolving. That means staying close to our customers to understand the new ways we can add value.
What do you believe are the most exciting opportunities for New Zealand businesses today?
I think the biggest opportunity for many New Zealand businesses is using digital technologies to radically alter their business model, and provide new value-producing opportunities.
AI and the IoT are two examples of technologies that are transforming businesses and forcing business owners and decision makers to think differently about their standard operating models. In our own business we’re looking at how we support and monitor ‘things’ rather than people, which is a shift, but something that we need to think seriously about to stay relevant.
How does working with Origin help businesses capitalise on these opportunities?
We give our clients peace of mind that their business is up and running and safe and secure, around the clock, so they can get on with innovating. We also make sure the technology is in place to underpin those big innovations and transformations. And because we work with many businesses across many industries, we can bring a broad view of what does and doesn’t work to their board table.
You started Origin in 2000, the year of the Y2K-disaster-that-wasn’t. Do you see any trends or issues today that you think are similarly over-hyped?
I think big data, in and of itself, has been somewhat over-hyped. Take cyber security as a good example. There are exciting new opportunities to bolster traditional security information and event management (SIEM) technology with big data. This combination gives us the ability to store massive amounts of data from internal systems, as well as from external sources, like threat intelligence feeds. But you need the people and processes to run the right queries and analytics to make sense of all that data; otherwise, it’s all just noise.
What do you see as the biggest threat to New Zealand businesses today?
There are two. The first is not evolving. If businesses don’t digitalise or disrupt their own business model, their competitors will. The second is cyber crime. Many of our CEOs and boards are still burying their heads in the sand when it comes to security. They don’t understand that they probably already have issues, or will have issues. The old approach of perimeter security is no longer enough - attack vectors are much more sophisticated now, and New Zealand businesses need to play some serious catch up.
What do our businesses need to do to stay ahead of the cyber security threat?
The majority of businesses will need to outsource. Primarily that’s because the cost to deliver these services internally are cost prohibitive when you take into account the three critical components to effective security: people, process and technology. Attracting and retaining true security specialists in New Zealand is incredibly costly and difficult. The tools and systems that are needed for threat detection and incident management are also hugely expensive, and you need robust processes to get value from them. For most enterprises, doing security well in-house is just not possible.
Anything else you’re picking for 2018?
I think this is going to be a really interesting year in technology. We’re going to see more investment in bots over apps, developments in social and biometric payments, the rise and rise of blockchain, and a lot more. Of course, the pace of change could be slowed down by any number of issues, like cyber security and government regulation. But you only have to reflect on how much has changed in the last five years to be assured that 2023 will look very different to today.